Global Health

Now that the nasal spray FluMist is no longer considered an effective vaccine against influenza, parents will have to resort to the old, unpopular standby for their kids: a shot.

In an epidemic, health professionals often struggle to answer two basic questions: Who is sick and where are they?

There are innovative digital strategies to help answer these questions.

Researchers have investigated how a spike in Google searches (for example, "What is flu?") can help them determine if a disease is spreading and how many people might be affected in a given area.

A majority of working adults say they still go to work when they have a cold or the flu. There are some jobs where doing that can have a big effect on health.

At least half of people who work in very public places, like hospitals and restaurants, report going to work when they have a cold or the flu. Those were among the findings of a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Here's a typical scenario when you have a medical problem. You go to your doctor's office, then have to run across town to a lab for a blood test and then you also have to get an appointment for an X-ray or MRI. There's a good chance this will all require a phone call — or a lot of phones calls — with your insurance company.

It's a hassle and it's time-consuming.

But for many people it's even worse than that.

The story is a familiar one: the saga of a loving parent's quest to save a child. This time it's about the mother of a boy with autism. The mother scours the medical literature in search of any kind of treatment, however far-fetched and experimental. She finds one that seems promising, something involving magnetic fields, and moves mountains to get it for her son as part of a research protocol.

Want Kids To Eat More Veggies? Market Them With Cartoons

Jul 7, 2016

Be it SpongeBob SquarePants or Tony the Tiger, food companies have long used cartoon characters to market their products to children. But that tactic can also sway younger kids to eat fresh vegetables, according to a new study.

The year is half over. So I took a moment over the long holiday weekend to triumphantly write, "Mission accomplished!" in ink next to each of my New Year's resolutions.

Prescription drug prices continue to climb, putting the pinch on consumers. Some older Americans appear to be seeking an alternative to mainstream medicines that has become easier to get legally in many parts of the country. Just ask Cheech and Chong.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2008, at the age of 24, all I wanted to know was whether I would be all right. It was the first time I had ever heard about the condition, and many people around me simply believed that I had been cursed.

Even though my parents sought medical help, the psychiatrist who diagnosed me did not give any information about the illness, the side effects of the medication prescribed for me, or the manic and depressive bouts that I could expect.

Episiotomy, a once-routine surgical incision made in a woman's vaginal opening during childbirth to speed the baby's passage, has been officially discouraged for at least a decade by the leading association of obstetrician-gynecologists in the United States.

Nonetheless, despite evidence that the procedure is only rarely necessary, and in some cases leads to serious pain and injuries to the mother, it is still being performed at much higher than recommended rates by certain doctors and in certain hospitals.

Mental illness has been part of human society throughout recorded history, but how we care for people with mental disorders has changed radically, and not always for the better.

In Colonial days, settlers lived in sparsely populated rural communities where sanctuary and community support enabled the tradition of family care brought from England. "Distracted persons" were acknowledged, but erratic behavior wasn't associated with disease.

There's something that really bothers Stanford psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys. When he thinks of all the years he has spent training the next generation of psychiatrists, the enormous investment in medical school and residency, he wants those doctors to devote that education to taking care of people with serious mental illness.

1 In 10 People May Face Malnutrition As Fish Catches Decline

Jun 30, 2016

There are many important reasons to manage the world's wild fisheries. We do it to maintain stock levels, to ensure biodiversity and because fish are valuable. But researchers say there's something else in need of protection: The very people who rely on fish for food.

Scientists are predicting more than 10 percent of the world's population, a whopping 845 million people, will experience deficiencies in critically important micronutrients including zinc, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and fatty-acids in the coming decades if global fish catches continue to decline.

This summer, it's not just athletes who are looking to set world records. Scientists are also trying to break a record — for how quickly they can make a vaccine for a new virus.

It's for Zika. And one team is leading the pack.

How FluMist Slipped From Preferred To Passe

Jun 27, 2016

What led to the abrupt fall of FluMist — the nasal spray version of influenza vaccine — which until recently was considered the first choice for younger children?

On Wednesday, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that the spray version was so ineffective, it shouldn't be used by anyone during the 2016-2017 flu season.

Just as the U.S. is battling diet-related diseases, obesity and climate change, so, too, is China.

And among the proposed strategies to combat these problems is this: Eat less meat.

Bad News For Kids Who Don't Like Flu Shots

Jun 23, 2016

It's time to brace the kids who don't like getting their flu shots for some disappointing news.

A panel of vaccination experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the surprising recommendation late Wednesday that FluMist Quadrivalent, the nasal spray vaccine that protects against influenza, should no longer be used.

The Challenge Of Taking Health Apps Beyond The Well-Heeled

Jun 23, 2016

When you hear the phrase "digital health," you might think about a Fitbit, the healthy eating app on your smartphone, or maybe a new way to email the doctor.

But Fitbits aren't particularly useful if you're homeless, and the nutrition app won't mean much to someone who struggles to pay for groceries. Same for emailing your doctor if you don't have a doctor or reliable Internet access.

Using A Smartphone In Bed Made Women Momentarily Blind

Jun 22, 2016

A 22-year-old woman in England thought she was going blind in one eye. She could always see fine out of her left eye. But on some nights, the right eye failed her. All she could see out of it were vague shapes in the room.

At first, it happened about two or three times a week. Then it started happening every night.

When she went to the doctor, her vision appeared normal. So did brain scans. But it was a disturbing trend.

Bright, energy-efficient LED streetlamps can be bad for our health, according to the American Medical Association.

Specifically, high-intensity LEDs that release mostly blue light — as opposed to the "warmer-looking" light of older streetlamps — create glare and mess with sleep cycles, the organization says.

By now we know that Zika is dangerous for pregnant women and their future babies. The virus can cause devastating birth defects.

But what about for infections after babies are born? Or in older children? Is Zika a danger for them?

So far, all the evidence suggests probably not. But there are a few caveats.

Let's start with what we know.

We had kids later in life, knowing little about children and with no parents to guide us. I depended upon Sofiya, our stern Russian day care provider, for child-rearing advice. She reminded me of my Lithuanian grandmother who took care of me as a child.

When the children caught colds, my husband took their temperature and carefully measured out a draught of flavored Tylenol. Then the children would demand Sofiya's special treatment — Vicks VapoRub on the soles of their feet.

Three months ago I had a heart attack. And since the symptoms of a heart attack are different for women, and since the kind I had can strike young people with no markers of heart disease, I've decided to tell my story. And because I love to name drop, I'll do some of that along the way because I was with authors I love that night.

At first Giselle wasn't sure what to put on her medical school application. She wanted to be a doctor, but she also wanted people to know about her own health: years of depression, anxiety and a suicide attempt. (We're using only her first name in this story, out of concern for her future career.)

"A lot of people were like, you don't say that at all," she said. "Do not mention that you have any kind of weakness."

The last time, we heard about a "mysterious hemorrhagic fever" in a country, it was February 2014. The outbreak was in Guinea. And by the time doctors had pinpointed the culprit, Ebola was spiraling out of control in West Africa.

The situation in South Sudan today is a far cry from that in West Africa a few years ago. But it's still concerning, the World Health Organization said.

Concussions have become part of the daily news. But how much have these brain injuries become part of daily life?

To find out, we asked people across the country about concussions in the latest NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll.

The poll, conducted during the first half of March, found that nearly a quarter of people — 23 percent of those surveyed — said they had suffered a concussion at some point in their lives. Among those who said they'd had a concussion, more than three-quarters had sought medical treatment.

Tracy Solomon Clark is outgoing and energetic — a former fundraiser for big companies and big causes. As she charged through her 40s she had "no clue," she says, that there might be a problem with her heart.

It was about six years ago — when she was 44 — that she first suffered severe shortness of breath, along with dizziness. She figured she was overweight and overworked, but never considered heart disease.

"That was the furthest thing from my mind," Solomon Clark says. "I was young!"

All sorts of health information is now a few taps away on your smartphone, from how many steps you take — to how well you sleep at night. But what if you could use your phone and a computer to test your vision? A company is doing just that — and eye care professionals are upset. Some states have even banned it.

In his recent book, The Finest Traditions of My Calling, Dr. Abraham Nussbaum, 41, makes the case that doctors and patients alike are being shortchanged by current medical practices that emphasize population-based standards of care rather than individual patient needs and experiences.

Nussbaum, a psychiatrist, is the chief education officer at Denver Health Medical Center and works on the adult inpatient psychiatric unit there. I recently spoke with him, and this is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Mosquito control is serious business in Harris County, Texas.

The county, which includes Houston, stretches across 1,777 square miles and is the third most populous county in the U.S. The area's warm, muggy climate and snaking system of bayous provide an ideal habitat for mosquitoes — and the diseases they carry.

The county began battling mosquitoes in earnest in 1965, after an outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis. Hundreds of people contracted the virus and 32 died.

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